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March 07, 2018


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Hi Simon.

What do you mean by a clear mental picture?

Hello Simon,
I need help. Is this correct format of writing task about agree and disagree question?
Q)For all children, the ability to play a musical instrument is just as important as the ability to read and write.’
How far do you agree with this suggestion? How important is it for a child to learn to play a musical instrument, in your view?

A} Intro: I don’t agree for all children.
B} Main Body:
1) Not all children are musically talented.
2) Literacy is a guarantee of education and progress; music is not (eg few professional musicians)
3) Music should be one of a range of optional activities (eg with sport, hobbies,
C} Concession: For some (a few) children music is essential, but not all.
D} Conclusion: Literacy more important than playing music. Music a secondary,
optional activity, can be invaluable for some.


One cannot tell a good story unless one knows where to begin, how the story ends, who the hero or lovers are, and their emotions and motives, and why one is telling it. So we need a "clear mental picture" before we begin.


In the context of a Task 2 essay, I would guess that Simon means both knowing what structures (such as idea-explain-example) you are going to use, and also what your main points and examples will be, what will go in each paragraph, and the overall thesis and conclusion you are seeking to prove, the logic behind your argument, so that you "present a fully developed position in answer to the question with relevant, fully extended and well supported ideas".


Hello Simon I want to write essay but I did not any write essay, how am I beginning writing essay? Before writing essay, which should I study source? would you like to advice me ? thanks

Saroj Dada:








Dear Simon
My teacher told me that the question like do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages means we can write either advantages or disadvantages .if you write both your marks will be reduced . He said this is something like how far do you agree type question.Is that true?simon please give me an answer ,I am confused

Hi Simon, I wonder about how to achieve band 9 in Writing task 2. Is it possible to gain high- score band when using simple structures and vocabulary? I read your essays which are really clear and understandable;however, the vocabularies are quite simple. Please help me !


Your teacher's advice about 'marks being reduced' is wrong. Examiners are looking for an opinion, and how you support it. This question is simple and there are around five choices:

1. The advantages completely outweigh the disadvantages
2. The disadvantages completely outweigh the advantages
3. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages (but not completely, so you look at both sides)
4. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages (but not completely, so look at both sides)
5. In your opinion, both sides are of equal weight (and look at both sides)


If you want to achieve 9 in Writing Task 2, then the first thing you have to do is eliminate all grammar errors and you have to make sure you write above 250 words. This is the first thing the examiner notices when they scan through the essay. The second thing is that you have written a clear opinion that is easy to follow and supported by details and examples. Thirdly, there needs to be a range of topic vocabulary (both general and specific), and all of that vocabulary has to be 'natural'.

There are other criteria, but these are the most important. Many candidates believe that examiners are looking for 'complicated' grammatical structures, and 'impressive' vocabulary. This is completely NOT true. Native speakers do NOT use complicated structures very often, and we do not use 'complex' vocabulary, because both of these can make the writing difficult to follow.

Simon's vocabulary is natural and it is definitely not 'simple'. Remember, examiners are normally impressed by collocations (groups of natural words) than just individual ones.

Here is a list of instances of verb+ing from four of Simon's Task 2 model essays. What is noticeable is that on average Simon uses gerunds, usually following a preposition, over four times in each essay. This seems pretty normal: as the following website confirms:


"without ever meeting each other"
"the result of isolating people"
"and discouraging real interaction"
"without being given the added responsibility"
"responsibility of working in their spare time"
"School is just as demanding as a full-time job"
"on top of attending lessons "
"spend it doing sports"
"gain from obliging young people to do"
"Doing this can only lead to resentment "
"that they were being used"
"the idea that allowing such people to "
"discourage them from breaking the law"
"about criminals leading glamorous lives."
"The vivid and perhaps shocking nature of these"
"The alternatives to using reformed criminals to"
"after serving a prison sentence "
"ideas that elderly people have about life are becoming less relevant "
"attach great importance to working hard"
"most concerned with shopping, giving and receiving presents, decorating their homes and enjoying"
"with making fires, watching firework displays, and perhaps going to"
" the underlying meaning "
"reasons for celebrating Christmas"
"play a role in passing knowledge of "

Using the same five essays as above, each Task 2 essay averaged:

13 sentences, the longest 32 words, the shortest 10 words.

One in three sentences was complex in the sense that it contained a subordinate, noun, or relative clause.

On average ONE of the following: "Though/although", "because", "whereas", "while", "whilst",or "if" occurred ONCE per essay

"In conclusion" ONCE per essay

"Also" almost ONCE per essay

Either "On the other hand" or "however" ONCE per essay.

"This" (as a cohesion device) in two out of five essays.

"but" occurred on average once or twice per essay.

"or" comes up about twice per essay.

"and" seven times per essay on average.

These results are pretty similar to csaj's analysis of "normal" English in the comments here:


In my view, what this demonstrates is that Simon's writing is both normal, and that its simplicity is deceptive. There is comparatively reliance on connective adverbs, such as "moreover" or "consequently", at the start of the sentence. Although some sentences are technically and grammatically more complex, the complexity passes unnoticed to the average reader. Lists or parallel ideas are often used, for example:
"Reformed offenders can tell young people about (1) how they became involved in crime, (2) the dangers of a criminal lifestyle,(3) and what life in prison is really like."

correction: comparatively little reliance

The phrases that Simon uses almost always seem to come up on google.books. For example:



These show 59 and 69 hits respectively, which suggests not common but not unnatural. In a sense Simon is not a "creative" writer: the phrases used, have all been used before. Perhaps this is the key to writing natural English for IELTS purposes.

can u plz give remarks on this
Nowadays, some employers thought formal academic qualifications are important than life experiences and personal qualities when they look for employees. Why is this trend? Is it positive or negative?
Company owners focus on many factors while hiring an appropriate candidate for a job. In the modern era, education is considered more crucial as compared to character and practical knowledge of a person due to various factors. I will shed light on both merits and demerits of this change in the following paragraphs.
As there is no smoke without fire similarly there are plethora of reasons behind this change. The main cause is that it is an easy and authentic way to analyze the eligibility of a candidate. To make it more clearly there is a proof of qualification of a person in the form of certificates but character cannot be judged in the first meeting. Moreover, the most significant demand of a job is the overall knowledge of a person which he acquire by completing a particular level of study and other factors are least important in this regard. For instance if a person wants to be a software engineer then he should have a degree in the same field and his family background and personality do not affect his performance in the formal environment.
I believe that this trend has myriads of benefits. Firstly, it makes recruitment process very smooth and there is less chaos for both employer and employee. For instance a candidate can match his profile before applying for a particular position. However, I cannot turn a blind eye towards its harmful effects. There are many professions where traits play a vital role. For example a person applying for post of teacher should have good moral character with qualification as future of new generation is in his hands. Besides this, he should have patience and teaching skill otherwise his degrees are useless.
The crux of the content is that before taking final decision during the interview all the factors should be kept in the mind so that a wise decision can be taken and the best one can be selected.

1) I think the question should read: "Nowadays, employers think ...qualifications are more important than...."

2) At 647 words it is a lot to write in forty minutes, and maybe the examiner (who also has limited time) would not read it all.

3) I would shorten the introduction.

4) "As there is no smoke without fire ": this idiom seems to be forced into the narrative.

5) In the exam, it is best to leave an entire blank line between paragraphs, so that the paragraphing is absolutely clear. There are marks for good paragraphing.

6) "To make it more clearly": this phrase seems not to be used as a sentence opener in this way on google books.

7) "the most significant demand of requirement for a job "

8) "which he acquire" -> which they/the candidate have acquired (it is possible to use "they" as singular to avoid gender issues).

9) "other factors are least important" -> other factors are less important

10) "it makes the recruitment process very smooth": that is, that type of recruitment process we are talking about

11) "I cannot turn a blind eye towards" : overly Nelsonian -> we cannot ignore ...

12) "future of new generation" -> the future of the next/upcoming generation. Singular countable nouns generally require articles or determiners.

13) " he should have" -> they/the candidate

14) "The crux of the content ": this phrase does not come up on google books -> In conclusion, ....

15) To me, the conclusion does not quite state your position clearly. Perhaps use "I believe that, for the reasons outlined above, ...."

16) "...there are plethora of reasons behind this change." -> there are plethora of reasons behind this trend. OR There are many reasons behind/underlying this trend. (Make it clearer to the examiner that the first question is being answered in this paragraph.)

17) "I believe that this trend has myriads of benefits." Might be better to tie this into the second question more directly and state your overall position, for example: Overall, I view this trend as positive and beneficial.

18) "I will shed light on both merits and demerits of this change in the following paragraphs." This type of statement is common in academic introductions, but, to me, in view of the IELTS requirement to make your position consistent clear throughout, its is better to foreshadow your actual opinion, for example: In my view, the trend is positive overall, and is linked to a desire for a more concrete/empirically quantifiable selection methodology.

19) The conclusion should also directly address the two questions asked and restate your position.


Correction: word count is actually fine at 324 words. Please ignore point two.

"Candidate" has been used three times, "person" five times, but "applicant" (which is quite common) is missing.

Notice the question says some employers. Beware of over-generalizing: for instance: Some company owners ....
Education is may be considered ... The main cause is often that ....

Many of the sentences start with a comment , linking or introductory adverb or phrase such as nowadays, in the modern era, to make it more clearly, moreover, firstly (with no secondly or finally), however, besides this. This tends to make the cohesion too obtrusive for a top score, so a little more variety is called for.

"More crucial" is actually commoner than "absolutely crucial" on google books, although some would view it as incorrect as the adjective "crucial" is seen as non-gradable. What the examiner would think is unknown, but for IELTS purposes "absolutely crucial" might be a safer choice. https://kathysteinemann.com/Musings/absolute/

Relevant education and qualifications may often outrank an applicant's character and practical knowledge as a selection criterion these days.

I assume that when we are talking about "mental picture", we concentrate more on how the essay would look like as a whole. In other words, we care more about how to arrange the texts to form our essay than what specific words or expressions should be used to implement it.


a) "Company owners" are shareholders, and not usually involved in the hiring process unless it is a very small business. Also "hiring" is less accurate than "selecting" and includes screening, shortlisting and interviewing -> Managers in business, government and other organizations use a variety of criteria when selecting a suitable candidate for a particular position. (suitable candidate is commoner than appropriate candidate on google books).

b)-> Many employers now stipulate minimum relevant education requirements, without which an applicant will not make the shortlist, making qualifications a crucial hurdle, a must-have, which far outweighs any relevant background experience or behavioural criteria.

c)-> In my view, the trend is positive overall, and stems partly from a desire for a more concrete and justifiable selection methodology, and partly as a result of legislation on human rights, discrimination, and equal pay and opportunity in some countries.

d)-> Qualifications are more easily checked and evidenced than character traits, which are harder to assess, particularly given the need to justify psychological testing in terms of hiring legislation parameters.

e) teaching skill -> teaching skills (much more common)

f) In conclusion, this trend has arisen as part of the search for more evidence-based hiring/selection criteria, and on balance, I believe this is a positive step forward toward fairer recruitment.


There are some really valuable comments from Kali above! I loved reading your analysis of word frequency in my essays. You're doing some proper 'deep work' Kali, so thank you and keep going!

Thanks also to sjm for another clear explanation.

PS. The comments below lessons seem to be getting more interesting and intelligent, with lots of analysis using 'Google books' frequency searches. I'll say more about this on Saturday.


Thank you so much for your comments. Your explanation was really helpful, and as Simon mentioned, your analysis of Simon's writing and the comments for Nevi are fantastic!! You would definitely achieve a high score on IELTS exam!!

Hi Simon,
I’m a big fan of your blog, which really give me much professional advice.however as I read more articles, I got confused by the agree/disagree type question now. For example when I meet this question:
Some people think that employers should not care about the way their employees dress, but the quality at work. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

If I follow your instruction, it’ll be easier to have a balanced answer to this question by focusing on the advantages of high work efficiency in one body paragraph and on the advantages of presentable appearance in another. Is this correct? But it seems weird to describe the advantages of good quality at work as it is of course good for a company and is a norm for us.

I appreciate it if you can have time to answer my enquiry.



Was the question actually "... but (only/more) about the quality of their work" ?

I agree that the advantages of good quality work are self-evident and not worth writing about.

There is no need to write a balanced essay if this viewpoint is difficult to put across. Just choose an easier viewpoint. Either employers always have the right to set dress standards or a dress code, or they never do, or only in some circumstances/to a limited extent. That is agree/disagree/partly agree.

Perhaps write about:

1) how to evaluate employee performance properly (and whether maintaining a smart appearance can ever be part of a job).

2) Which jobs really do require a smart or presentable appearance, eg front desk, face-to-face sales and marketing, tour guides, executive taxi drivers, and so on.

3) Whether there is a minimum standard of appropriate dress in an office, factory, or warehouse. For example, ultra-short skirts, tatty jeans and T-shirt, beachwear, full-veil or religious headgear, or long billowing clothes which are hazardous on stairways or near machinery.

4) Whether employers have the right to impose standards that are not justified by the nature of the work. Or whether a person has an absolute right to dress the way they want, for whatever reason, religious or otherwise.

That might mean one paragraph on the right of the employer to set dress codes, and another on the rights of employees to freedom of dress.

Thanks for your suggestion, I just got the answer from Simon which was similar to yours, and your answers are definitely more logical then the one I thought about. it is easier to write a balanced answer for this question, but just not the way I wrote.


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